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MPO ProductionsBig Train, The (Part I) (ca. 1950s)

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Operations of the New York Central Railroad. Producer and director: Victor Solow. Introduced by NYCRR president Alfred E. Perlman.


This movie is part of the collection: Prelinger Archives

Producer: MPO Productions
Sponsor: New York Central Railroad
Audio/Visual: Sd, C
Keywords: Transportation: Railroad; Occupations: Railroad; New York State

Creative Commons license: Public Domain


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Average Rating: 3.60 out of 5 stars3.60 out of 5 stars3.60 out of 5 stars3.60 out of 5 stars

Reviewer: DannyLMcDaniel - 5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars - January 2, 2010
Subject: The America the Beautiful
I grew up next to the New York Central in North Central Indiana and to see the steel mill complex takes me back to the day of Americas great industrial prowess. Unfortunately, those days are gone but this film about the railroad and the industrial Midwest is what the industrial heart of China actually looks like. The Chinese are now living our golden years. I still believe that the man-made steel works from South Chicago to upstate New York were the most beautiful structures ever built by Americans. There will never be a time when all the hype about "Green" technology will provide the raw muscle and jobs as those mills and in that era, which came to a premature end. This short film so America at its' finest.

After viewing this film, I believe more than ever America needs "A Back to the Future" approach to re-industrialization and economic order.

By the way, Al Perlman was the greatest railroadman that ever lived. I wished he could have gotten his way and had the NYC merge with the B&O instead of the Pennsylvania. This film, in retrospect, was a fine tribute to him, the New York Central, and how fast conditions can change in an industrialized economy when poorly lead.

Danny L. McDaniel
Lafayette, Indiana

Reviewer: Carbón de Coque - 5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars - October 7, 2009
Subject: "The train will help deliver the future, as it has done from the beginning"
I was originally interested in this film because of the incredible scenes of an integrated steel mill complex that are the highlight of the first few minutes. As an industrial documentary, it is a rare gem. Some of the SCIENCE! scenes are campy and obviously staged, but I also enjoyed seeing the period laboratory instrumentation, and especially the punchcards and other vintage computer ephemera.

The "rant" from Alfred Perlman isn't off-the cuff, it's a prepared speech delivered in a passionate, let level voice. Here's my transcript, starting from 7:32 in Part II:

But that is only half the story. I'd like to tell you the other half myself. But first a question: How would you like to run a business, if the government used your tax dollars to build one alongside you? Then made it tax-free, and turned it over to a competitor, and helped him operate and maintain it! That is the problem of the railroad.

Now let me go back a little in railroad history. In the 19th century, the railroads had a virtual monopoly of inland transportation. Regulation of the railroads grew up with that monopoly in mind. They were necessary laws, indeed they made sense -- half a century ago. Today these laws still control railroad operations. But what happened to our monopoly? Is in it in the passenger transportation? Is it in hauling freight? Well, what happened to our monopoly?

As all of us know, it has disappeared. But you'd never know it from the volumes of laws and regulations that still govern our railroad operation. Here is an airport. A modern, up-to-date airport. Who paid for it? Why like every airport, the taxpayers did. The local government took tax money to build it. Or it floated tax-exempt bonds to build it, and it got the federal government to put up more tax money, from all of us, to help in its construction.

Now here is a rail terminal, not quite as up-to-date. Who paid for that? Why the railroad did, and it not only paid for it, but pays taxes on top of it. Three million dollars a year, to be exact. Now that makes a difference. Airports, bus terminals, truck terminals, bridges, tunnels, ultra-modern freeways, government-dredged waterways? The rights of way of our competitors. Billions of dollars worth of property, built and maintained by taxes -- yours and ours.

The right of way of the New York Central, 10,000 miles of it, our bridges, our freight terminals, our passenger terminals, our research installations: not only built by us, not only maintained by us, but in addition we pay property taxes of 40 million dollars annually. Taxes that go to support community activities like schools, the fire department, the police department, the highway department.

Quite a contrast to our competition, isn't it? And yet the railroads are the lowest true cost producers of mass transportation. The ships in the St. Lawrence seaway, the trucks on the highway, are not truly producing transportation as inexpensively as a train -- when you realize how many of their costs are paid for by the taxpayer.

Which brings us back to our question: How would you like to run a business, if the government built one alongside you? And made it tax-free, and then turned it over to a competitor, and helped him operate and maintain it. That is the problem of the railroads. Now, despite outdated policies which restrict us, discriminate against us, and would have put any other industry out of business, the railroads have made progress. And you've just seen how much we are doing to make even more progress.

But in a competitive free enterprise society, we cannot indefinitely run a business in competition with government-financed, government-supported business. What we have is a lop-sided transportation policy on federal and state levels. A policy which is slowly squeezing the life out of our railroads. What do we ask? Well that's simple: we ask for an up-to-date, fair transportation policy. We ask that ALL forms of transportation pay their way, as now only the railroads do.

Or failing that, we ask the same tax benefits and the same government support under which other forms of transportation operate today. We are not just discussing a 4% return versus a 6% or 8% return, we're discussing the steady expansion and growth of American industry as a whole. We're discussing your standard of living and comfort; we're discussing your better standard of living and your greater comfort tomorrow. You can't have them without modern and more efficient railroads. Unless you know the facts, and demand a modern transportation policy which gives equal treatment to every form of transportation. Thank you.

Reviewer: Christine Hennig - 3.00 out of 5 stars3.00 out of 5 stars3.00 out of 5 stars - December 30, 2003
Subject: Chug-a-Chug-a-Chug-a-Chug-a....
Made by the New York Central Railroad, this 50s film tells us how railroads are modernizing in standard industrial film style. It goes into a great deal of detail about this in a rather dry fashion. Railroad buffs will probably find it interesting, others less so. The last part of the film is a rather whiny lecture by Alfred Pearlman about how the government subsidizes other forms of transportation, but lets the railroads shift for themselves. After learning about how many government perks the railroads were given back in the 19th century, I cant say his little talk stimulates much sympathy in me. Still, this is a quite historically interesting record of where the railroads were at in the 50s.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.

Reviewer: Gary Landrio - 3.00 out of 5 stars3.00 out of 5 stars3.00 out of 5 stars - October 25, 2003
Subject: Some things never change
This analysis of the railroad industry is amazing in that done 45 years ago, it is still accurate. More amazing is that inspite of the unbalanced national transportation policies the railroad industry has been resilent enough to still survive. Al Perlman was a hard nosed railroader, who was also a visionary of his time. This film clearly shows that railroad industry's efforts to change and improve. It also shows through Perlaman's commentary how poor our national policies have been and still are.

Reviewer: Spuzz - 2.00 out of 5 stars2.00 out of 5 stars - January 30, 2003
Subject: Like A Little Whine With Your Railroads?
Essentially two films, the Big Train combines a rather stirring voyage a freight train makes from Point A to Point B, with a unbelievable whining complaint from the Railroad's head honcho. Alfred Perlman.
The film starts out with Perlman introducing the film we're about to see. With jarring narration (A Rod Serling wannabe?) the voyage of the train is told, filmed with great simplistic shots of the tracks going by, this part is actually quite exciting, with it's jarring music and melodrama.
The real fun starts when Perlman, realizing that this film is not all about him, comes back on about 5 minutes left into the picture and just starts RANTING about how the government doesnt give the Railroads a break. It's quite funny to see this hissy fit. The only time Perlman lets up is to CLEAN HIS PIPE. LOL. That's great.

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